Joanne O’Leary

Joanne O’Leary has been an editor at the LRB since 2016. She is working on a book about the Irish wake.

I was a coyote: Can you trust a horsewoman?

Joanne O’Leary, 29 June 2023

Kathryn Scanlan​ is a straight shooter. Her stories are short – often no more than a couple of paragraphs long. Her sentences are spare, her syntax is plain, and she restricts herself, for the most part, to everyday diction. She writes about ordinary things: eating and defecating, bad sex and heatstroke, running errands and men who won’t admit they’ve gained weight....

You have to take it: Elizabeth Hardwick’s Style

Joanne O’Leary, 17 November 2022

Elizabeth Hardwick​ was wary of biographers. She called life-writing ‘a scrofulous cottage industry’, a ‘consistent fiction’ masquerading as truth. Its practitioners were necrophiliacs ‘quick in pursuit of the dead’. In her book on Herman Melville, she wrote of the ‘violent exuberance’ that accompanied his rediscovery by critics in the 1920s:...

Bitchy Little Spinster: Queens of Amherst

Joanne O’Leary, 3 June 2021

Nobody​ has a good word to say about Mabel Loomis Todd. When she’s remembered at all, it’s as a homewrecker: the vamp who seduced Emily Dickinson’s brother, Austin, 27 years her senior, and destroyed his marriage to Susan Gilbert, Emily’s closest confidante. Like any good seductress, Todd was an opportunist. She exploited Austin’s role as the treasurer of...

Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media (until 26 April; temporarily closed) opens with images of the Visitation, the encounter in St Luke’s Gospel between the expectant Virgin Mary and her sixty-year-old cousin Elizabeth, improbably pregnant, in the days before IVF, with John the Baptist. The Visitation is the Second Joyful Mystery of the rosary. For those who grew up in...

Knitting, Unravelling: Yiyun Li

Joanne O’Leary, 4 July 2019

Why write​ an autobiographical novel? Shouldn’t fiction depart from life and show us a world that’s bigger, weirder and more dramatic than our own? ‘One risks losing one’s privacy in fiction,’ Yiyun Li writes, ‘and to be anti-autobiographical lessens that danger.’ She was born in 1972 in Beijing, a daughter of the Mao regime for whom ‘privacy...

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